Military Veteran College Enrollment Grows as Campuses Adapt

Nationwide, more than one million veterans attend college and one million more veterans are expected to enroll over the next few years. Many colleges and universities are offering programs specifically for and tailored to veterans, but services overall are inconsistent. Some campuses offer cutting-edge psychological, physical and academic support, while others struggle to meet basic needs.

Thousands of military veterans are eager to make use of federal education benefits. And with a massive population and a large public university system, California is at the forefront of dealing with an influx of veterans to higher education. Many veterans, returned back to the United States from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are starting classes on California’s college campuses this fall, writes Carla Rivera of Los Angeles Times.

Last fall, more than 44,000 veterans were enrolled in California’s 112 community colleges — and officials expect more veterans to sign up for classes in California this year. According to officials, nearly 40% of all California veterans receiving educational benefits attend a community college.

Many colleges have established veterans centers to help military veterans jumpstart and transition into their college education. Pasadena City College’s veterans center has a dedicated academic counselor, one-on-one tutoring and mentoring. It also provides therapists, nutritionists and a volunteer attorney and is doubling its space this semester, according to coordinator Patricia D’Orange-Martin.

Brian Rodriguez, who joined the Navy after high school, said he was impressed with California State Polytechnic University’s veterans center. Cal State’s 23 campuses enrolled nearly 7,000 veterans and active-duty service members in 2012.

At the veterans center, students helped Rodriguez and answered questions about documents he would need for his Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits. “I had looked at other campuses, but they didn’t have anything like the veterans center here,” Rodriguez said.

And veterans are making their mark on campuses. At California State University, Los Angeles, a group representing many of the 400 veterans in June voted no confidence in the administration. They also complained that officials have failed to follow through on a proposal to establish a resource center that would provide a full range of counseling, orientation and other services.

Before he retired in June, President James M. Rosser declined to comment on the students’ complaints. However, in a response to the vote, Rosser sent a letter to Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White saying that he agreed “that we have not addressed the identified needs of our student veterans in a timely manner.”

The campus moved its veterans office to an expanded space this fall and it is partnering with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to increase services, according to officials.

Some colleges around the country have been lax in providing services, and when they do it is often after aggressive prodding by students, said Michael Dakduk, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Student Veterans of America. He said that when he was a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, veterans had to push hard for services before finally getting a resource center.